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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Summit Hotels & Resorts welcomes its first member in Cambodia

Preferred Hotel Group is pleased to announce its newest member - Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap - under the Summit Hotels & Resorts brand, a collection of more than 150 internationally acclaimed hotels and resorts that celebrate local luxury.

Located just 15 minutes from the Angkor temples and 10 minutes from the airport, the Angkor Palace Resort & Spa is set amidst 11 hectares of exotic tropical gardens and offers a delightful resort base from which to discover the legendary temples of Angkor. The first Cambodian-owned luxury five-star resort accommodation, its design, d├ęcor and furnishing reflect the finest in traditional Khmer architecture.

The resort features 251 guestrooms and suites and eight villas, all tastefully furnished in Cambodian style with inlaid teak floors and traditional poster beds with balconies overlooking the gardens. Complimentary broadband Internet is also offered in all rooms and wireless internet access is available in public areas. Business travelers are catered for with a fully-equipped business center and meeting facilities can cater for up to 200 persons.

The resort features 251 guestrooms and suites and eight villas, all tastefully furnished in Cambodian style with inlaid teak floors and traditional poster beds with balconies overlooking the gardens. Complimentary broadband Internet is also offered in all rooms and wireless internet access is available in public areas. Business travelers are catered for with a fully-equipped business center and meeting facilities can cater for up to 200 persons.

Four restaurants and bars offer a traditional Khmer menu as well as international cuisine. The Kainnora Spa is a relaxing sanctuary with nine treatment rooms and four spa villas offering a wide range of holistic body treatments including traditional Khmer massage, body wraps and scrubs. Other recreational facilities include a gym, two tennis courts and a large freeform outdoor swimming pool surrounded by lush greenery. Newly-opened, a golf driving range is located within the hotel with 16 sheltered golf driving bays. Also, the resort is within a 10-minute drive to Angkor Golf Resort, a Nick Faldo design 18-hole golf course, and host to the prestigious Indochine Cup.

"Siem Reap is one of the major tourism hotspots in Asia and we are thrilled to be partnered with a hotel that is truly representative of genuine Cambodian hospitality. We aim to bring high-end FIT and MICE business to the city and to the resort through our global channels," said Mark Simmons, Area Managing Director, Asia.

"As a member of Summit Hotels, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa joins a hotel brand that is made up of some of the finest hotels in the world. With Summit Hotels' stringent criteria to ensure all members meet global service excellence and quality standards, we are able to offer and ensure five-star quality services to all discerning travelers visiting Angkor Wat temple complex, an UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site," said Weng Aow, General Manager, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa..
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Newest fibre-optic cable is set to set get Cambodia connected

Written by Hor Hab and Chun Sophal

Hopes high $18 million infrastructure project will bring cheaper, faster internet to Cambodia

CAMBODIA is expected to complete the latest stage of its telecoms infrastructure development in April - a fibre-optic cable to Laos that will connect to China's Yunnan Province, telecommunications officials said Monday.

Cambodia and Laos signed a memorandum of understanding on January 12 in Champassak province, Laos, to finalise the arrangement.

Cambodia Telecom has implemented the project on the Cambodian side with construction already complete, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun told the Post Monday.

The US$18 million project - built with a loan from China - would, he added, "improve the quality of internet, telecommunications and televisions system transfer".

It is part of information and communication technology [ICT] in Cambodia, he said, adding that the new infrastructure would offer greater opportunities for connectivity in Cambodia.

The project will also improve the speed of internet connections and reduce the cost of telecommunication services, said Sao Valak, CEO of internet service provider Campura System Corp.


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This connection ... can integrate economic and political cooperation.

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"With this cable link, Cambodia is no longer isolated from the rest of the world," he added.

Integrating with the region
The new cable has been constructed in two phases, the first a 113-kilometre section from Poipet on the Thai border up to Siem Reap province. This section is then connected to a longer 700-kilometre fibre optic cable that runs north of Siem Reap province across the Lao border at Nong Nonkhien.

In turn, the Laotian connection extends the cable network already in place in China's Yunnan province.
Another fibre-optic cable crosses Cambodia east to west between Thailand and Vietnam - a project implemented with money from Germany - meaning the new cable to China will further develop Cambodia's telecommunications system as part of the greater Mekong subregion.

"This connection is very important because it can integrate economic and political cooperation with the region and the world," said Ken Chanthan, president of the ICT Association of Cambodia.

Still, many challenges remain, he added. Cambodia still suffers from a lack of IT human resources and very low internet connectivity in rural areas.

"We can create job opportunities for our people if we can develop ICT to a certain level, because ICT services are still limited. We always hire overseas consultants," he said.

Sao Volak called on Cambodian people - and particularly students - to take full advantage of improved infrastructure by becoming better trained in information technology. .
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Spread of Malaria Feared as Drug Loses Potency

By THOMAS FULLER

TASANH, Cambodia — The afflictions of this impoverished nation are on full display in its western corner: the girls for hire outside restaurants, the badly rutted dirt roads and the ubiquitous signs that warn “Danger Mines!”

But what eludes the naked eye is a potentially graver problem, especially for the outside world. The parasite that causes the deadliest form of malaria is showing the first signs of resistance to the best new drug against it.

Combination treatments using artemisinin, an antimalaria drug extracted from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, have been hailed in recent years as the biggest hope for eradicating malaria from Africa, where more than 2,000 children die from the disease each day.

Now a series of studies, including one recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine and one due out soon, have cemented a consensus among researchers that artemisinin is losing its potency here and that increased efforts are needed to prevent the drug-resistant malaria from leaving here and spreading across the globe.

“This is something we can’t just slide under the carpet,” said R. Timothy Ziemer, a retired admiral in the United States Navy who heads the President’s Malaria Initiative, the $1.2 billion program started by the Bush administration three years ago to cut malaria deaths in half in the countries affected worst.

Admiral Ziemer met with Thai and Cambodian officials last month to assess the resistance problem, which affects the same drugs used by the malaria initiative in Africa.

“We feel that we not only have to beat the drum but shake the cage: guys, this is significant,” he said.

Though the studies show relatively early signs of resistance to artemisinin, the drugs were judged to have failed in only two patients in the recently published study. Even they were eventually cured.

But malaria experts note that several times in the past, this same area around the Thai-Cambodian border appears to have been a starting point for drug-resistant strains of malaria, starting in the 1950s with the drug chloroquine.

Introduced immediately after World War II, chloroquine was considered a miracle cure against falciparum malaria, the deadliest type. But the parasite evolved, the resistant strains spread, and chloroquine is now considered virtually useless against falciparum malaria in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa.

It took decades for this resistance to spread across the world, so by the same token artemisinin-based drugs are almost sure to be useful for many years to come.

To protect against artemisinin resistance, the global health authorities are trying to assure that it is sold only as a combination pill with other antimalaria medicines that linger longer in the blood, mopping up any artemisinin-resistant parasites.

The two most recent tests showing artemisinin resistance were done with pills that had no combination drug. But if resistance spreads, there are no new drugs to take the place of artemisinin-based combinations and no immediate prospects under development.

“This could spread in any direction; we have to make sure it doesn’t,” said Pascal Ringwald, malaria coordinator at the World Health Organization, who three years ago led a study of drug resistance in Cambodia and is co-author of a coming study on the subject. “We know it’s not yet in Bangladesh,” he said. “It’s not yet in India.”

Scientists have documented how malarial parasites that were resistant to chloroquine in the 1950s spread across Thailand, Burma, India and over to Africa, where a vast majority of the nearly one million annual malaria-related deaths occur.

To prevent a recurrence with artemisinin therapies, the United States has put aside political considerations and approved a malaria monitoring center in military-run Myanmar, formerly Burma. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest donors to malaria research, is giving $14 million to the Thai and Cambodian governments to help pay for a containment program.

That program includes efforts to supply the area with mosquito nets, a screening program for everyone living in affected areas and follow-up visits by health workers to assess the effectiveness of the drugs, said Dr. Duong Socheat, director of Cambodia’s National Malaria Center. On the Thai side of the border, the government has “motorcycle microscopists” who take blood samples from villagers and migrant workers, analyze them on the spot and distribute antimalaria drugs.

But some experts would like to see an even more aggressive approach.

“Many of us think this should be treated on the same order as SARS,” said Col. Alan J. Magill, a researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. “This should be a global emergency that is addressed in a global fashion.” SARS, the respiratory disease that spread rapidly through Asia and beyond in 2003, killed more than 700 people.

The falciparum parasite is one of four types of malaria and by far the most virulent. It enters the bloodstream through a mosquito bite, and after incubating about two weeks, it multiplies and takes over red blood cells. There it causes fever, chills, headaches and nausea, among other symptoms. If untreated, the infected cells can block blood vessels and fatally cut off blood supply to vital organs.

The recent studies show that artemisinin-based drugs are becoming less effective in removing the parasite from the bloodstream. While a few years ago it took the drugs 48 hours to clear the bloodstream of parasites, it now can take 120 hours.

“What our study demonstrates is that therapy for some patients fails — the malaria goes away and comes back,” said Lt. Col. Mark M. Fukuda, a United States Army doctor whose study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December.

Different regions rely on different artemisinin combinations. The Cambodian government recommends that artemisinin be combined with mefloquine, which was developed by the American military and is known commercially as Lariam. Artemether, a derivative of artemisinin, is often combined with another antimalarial drug, lumefantrine. This was recently judged to be the most effective combination in a study of children in Papua New Guinea.

The same combination is also expected to be approved for sale in the United States soon, marketed by Novartis and mainly intended for people traveling overseas or for those who arrive in the United States with malaria.

The mosquito responsible for transmission of malaria is still endemic in the United States. But modern housing, better access to health care and the use of insecticides have virtually eradicated the disease in wealthier countries.

Here in Tasanh, a village 20 miles east of the Thai border, Dr. Fukuda and a team of researchers work in what is euphemistically called a more challenging environment. Tasanh is served by a dirt road and has no running water and no public supply of electricity.

In a small, spartan clinic, Chet Chen, an 18-year-old malaria patient, lies listlessly on an old metal-framed bed next to a sample of his urine in a used water bottle. The male nurse who examines blood samples is out helping to fix the weed whacker, which has broken.

In a small but newer annex to the clinic, Dr. Fukuda and his researchers work in a trilingual environment — Khmer (Cambodian), Thai and English — that sometimes sows confusion.

Americans in the clinic recently chuckled when a Thai researcher described a patient as having a “hot body” — a literal translation of “fever” in Thai, but one that evoked nightclub images.

Dr. Fukuda calls this region of Cambodia the “canary in the coal mine” for drug resistance.

In the past, migrant workers in plantations and gem mines are believed to have helped spread drug-resistant strains westward. A history of civil unrest, counterfeit drugs and a weak and underfinanced government has made it difficult to control malaria. In the case of chloroquine, preventive use of the drug — including putting it in table salt to protect a wide swath of the population — might have actually encouraged resistance to the drug, Dr. Fukuda and others say.

It was not until the 1990s that mefloquine, the American army drug, was combined with artemisinin, made from a Chinese herb.

Artemisinin-based combinations turned out to be fast-acting and seemed to slow transmission of the disease, said Dr. John MacArthur, an infectious disease expert with the United States Agency for International Development in Bangkok.

Dr. MacArthur and others say resistance to malaria drugs is a natural consequence of widespread use of the drug. “In the case of malaria, it’s the Darwinism of the parasite,” he said. “It likes to survive.”

Still, some researchers remain concerned about sending the wrong message to the public about the efficacy of artemisinin-based drugs.

“This is not the death knell of artemisinin,” said Dr. Nicholas White, a malaria expert who is chairman of a joint research program between Oxford University and Mahidol University in Thailand. “The drug still works in Cambodia, maybe not as well as before.”

But given the history of drug failures here, there appears to be a consensus on the solution.

“Get rid of all malaria from Cambodia,” Dr. White said. “Eradicate it. Eliminate it.”
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Cambodia tribunal dispute runs deeper

PHNOM PENH: At first glance it seems to be simply a numbers game: whether to try 5, 10 or more defendants for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

But as a United Nations-backed tribunal prepares to hold its first trial session next month, it is embroiled in a wrangle over numbers that goes to the heart of longstanding concerns about the tribunal's fairness and independence.

The Cambodian government, critics say, is attempting to limit the scope of the trials for its own political reasons, a limit that the critics say would compromise justice and could discredit the entire process.

"To me, it's the credibility of the tribunal which is at stake, its integrity and therefore its credibility," said Christophe Peschoux, who heads the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.

The first defendant is the man with perhaps the most horrifying record: Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the commander of the Tuol Sleng torture house in Phnom Penh, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths. His trial is to open with a procedural hearing, set for Feb. 17, at which more substantive sessions, involving witnesses and evidence, are expected to be scheduled.

Four other defendants, all of whom were members of the Khmer Rouge Central Committee, are also in custody, waiting their turns to face charges in crimes that occurred while they were at the top of the chain of command from 1975 to 1979. As much as one-fourth of the population died from disease, hunger, overwork or execution under the Khmer Rouge's brutal Communist rule.

Those five defendants are enough, Cambodian officials say.

But foreign legal experts counter that within reasonable limits, the judicial process should not be arbitrarily limited.

After a decade of difficult and not always friendly negotiations between the United Nations and the Cambodians, a hybrid tribunal is in place, with Cambodian and foreign co-prosecutors and panels of co-judges in an awkward political and legal balancing act. Now, even before Duch's trial gets under way, that balance is being tested.

Last month the foreign co-prosecutor, a Canadian named Robert Petit, submitted six more names to the court for investigation, saying that he had gathered enough evidence to support possible charges. Petit's Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, objected - not on legal grounds, but for reasons that appear to reflect the government's position on the trials.

Additional indictments, the Cambodian prosecutor said, could be destabilizing and would cost too much and take too long and would violate the spirit of the tribunal, which she said envisioned "only a small number of trials."

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who bargained hard with the United Nations over the shape and scope of the tribunal, has said that trying "four or five people" would be enough, although there is no formal limit on the number.

Indeed, Peter Maguire, author of "Facing Death in Cambodia," suggests that Hun Sen's plan might be to try only Duch - "a garden-variety war criminal" - and hope the political defendants die before they can be tried and judged.

The additional names submitted by Petit have not been made public. But people close to the court say that none of them holds a significant position in Cambodia's current government.

Both Hun Sen and several senior members of his government were Khmer Rouge cadre, but experts say they do not fall under the scope of the tribunal and are not at risk of prosecution.

The mandate of the court is to try the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge and "those most responsible" for the crimes - that is, people like Duch, who oversaw the torture and killing of thousands of people.

In Cambodia, though, courts do not head off in their own directions without tight control from Hun Sen or the people around him. Some advocates of the tribunal - the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC - see it as offering Cambodia a model for a more independent judiciary.

"Some in Phnom Penh are apparently frightened that the ECCC might actually succeed - that it might serve as an example of accountability that could be applied more widely," said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

"With the Feb. 17 start of the first trial fast approaching, now is the moment to show that the court is not a tool of the Cambodian government," he said. "The court's credibility is on the line."

Most Cambodians are eager to see Khmer Rouge leaders brought to trial, according to an extensive survey published last week by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

But the study found that about one-third of people answering the survey had doubts about the tribunal's neutrality and independence, perhaps because of their experience with their own corrupt and politically controlled judiciary.

Confidence in the tribunal has also been eroded by allegations of kickbacks that are familiar in the Cambodian court system.

The allegations have left the United Nations with the awkward choice of taking action or being seen as condoning corruption.

Now, with the dispute between the two co-prosecutors in the open, the checks and balances of the hybrid court will meet their first major test.

The dispute over the number of defendants must now go to a pre-trial chamber whose makeup reflects the supermajority structure of the tribunal, which is made up of three Cambodian judges and two foreigners. One of the foreign judges must join the Cambodians, in a four-vote majority, for a decision to prevail.

If the panel is deadlocked three to two, according to court rules, the prosecution must proceed.

But court watchers said it remained to be seen how cooperative the Cambodian staff would be if the government did not want those cases to move forward.

There is nothing so far to suggest that this process will not work as it should, said David Scheffer, a law professor at Northwestern University School of Law who took part in negotiations to create the tribunal.

The real test, he said in a recent article in The Phnom Penh Post newspaper, will be whether the judges in the pre-trial chamber "step up to the plate and do their duty with the highest degree of judicial integrity."

"We can all assess that when their decision is rendered," he said.
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